Dhammika Paniya and the wave of fake news that followed
Neville Uditha Weerasinghe
The news of the ‘Ayurveda Paniya’ developed by Dhammika Bandara, a traditional medical practitioner spread like wildfire in Sri Lankan social media circles as well as in some mainstream media circles.
According to a report by #Hashtag Generation, this was one of the most highlighted news items on social media in Sri Lanka in December 2020. Hashtag regularly monitors the social media sphere, for hate speech and misinformation in Sri Lanka.
What Dhammika Bandara says is that his Ayurveda concoction can “cure” Covid-19. As a result of this statement being circulated widely on social media, the media reported large crowds gathering in front of Dhammika Bandara’s house. Further, the Rajarata University’s Ethics Review Committee had given Bandara “permission for clinical trials”.
In the backdrop of Dhammika Bandara and his Paniya being discussed to a great degree on social media and certain mainstream media, several other traditional medical practitioners came out saying that they too had come up with syrups which would offer cure or immunity against Covid-19. #Hashtag Generation reports that Dhammika Bandara had acquired considerable popularity through photographs and videos showing crowds gathering in front of his house.
According to the #Hashtag Generation report, from 2020 December 4th to 31st, 2,848 social media posts and 317.2 related responses had been observed concerning this Ayurveda Paniya which claimed the ability to “cure” Covid-19.
Meanwhile, Dr. Haritha Aluthge of the Government Medical Officers Association, stated that “they would only place their trust in a vaccine” (News 1st, 2020).
As various reports emerged that ‘Ayurvedic syrups’ have shown successful responses to Covid-19 in various parts of the country, Public Service United Nurses Union Chairman Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thero told the media that “he requested that the validity of these syrups be certified after testing them on Covid-19 patients.”
On 2020 December 23rd, the Ayurveda Department granted a license to the traditional medical practitioner doctor to produce this Ayurveda medicine.
Ayurveda Commissioner Chatura Kumaratunga told the media that the Paniya had not been identified as a medicine for Covid-19 and that it had only been approved as a syrup.
While opposition was growing against the Health Minister and Government lawmakers drinking Dhammika Bandara’s Paniya, some groups truly believed that it would be a successful treatment for Covid-19.
The media’s reports of Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi consuming the Paniya concocted allegedly from a traditional medicinal recipe by Dhammika Bandara, clearly construed her approval for this syrup. However, the media reported that in the past couple of days, the Health Minister and Parliamentary Representatives who had consumed this Paniya had become infected with Covid-19. Regardless, Dhammika Bandara continued to carry out a broad campaign on his social media platforms. Even though Ayurvedic investigations into it have not been concluded, the distribution and sale of the said Paniya, continues unhindered.